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HARVARD COLLEGE 
LIBRARY 



GIFT OF 
EDWIN H. BRIGHAM 

OF BROOKLINE 




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AN ALABAMA STUDENT 






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BY 
\ 



WILLIAM OSLER 



BALTIMOBB 
THB FBIBDBNWALD COUPAMT 

1896 



Johm Hopkini Hotpital Htatorieal Club, 
January, 1895, 



AN ALABAMA STUDENT 



BY 



WILLIAM OSLER 



BALTIMORB 
THE FBI EDEN WALD COMPANY 

1896 



M^J 915. 2-. 5« 



Harvard College Lfbwry 
June 8,1918 
aift of 
Dr. H. £L BrighajtL 



[From Th€ Johns Hopkina ffotpital BulMin, No. 68, January, 1896.] 



AN ALABAMA STUDENT. 



Chief among the hard sayings of the Gospels is the declara- 
tion, He that loveth father or mother or son or daughter more 
than me is not worthy of me. Yet the spirit that made possible 
its acceptance, and which is responsible for Christianity as it 
is — or rather, perhaps, as it was — ^is the same which in all ages 
has compelled men to follow ideals, even at the sacrifice of the 
near and the dear ones at home. In varied tones, to all, at one 
time or another, the call comes: to one, to forsake all and follow 
Him ; to another, to scorn delights and live the laborious days 
of a student ; to the third, to renounce all in the life of a 
Sunnyasi. Many are the wand-bearers, few are the mystics, 
as the old Greek has it, or, in the words which we know better, 
Many are called, but few are chosen. The gifts were diversi- 
fied^ but the same spirit animated the ^^ flaming heart of St. 
Theresa," the patient soul of Palissy the potter, and the 
mighty intellect of John Hunter. 

We honor those who respond to the call; we love to tell 
the story of their lives ; and while feeling, perhaps, that we 
could not have been, with them, faithful unto death, yet we 
recognize in the power of their example the leaven which 
leavens the mass of selfishness about us. These "mystics'* and 
"chosen" are often not happy men, often not the successful 
men. They see of the travail of their souls and are not satis- 
fied, and, in the bitterness of the thought that they are not 
better than their fathers, are ready, with Elijah, to lie down 
and die. 



To-night I wish to tell you the story of a maai of whom you 
have never heard, whose name is not written on the scroll of 
fame, but of one who heard the call and forsook all and fol- 
lowed his ideal. 

When lookiug over the literature of malarial fevers in the 
South, chance threw in my way Tenner's Southern Medical 
Reports, Vols. I and II, which were issued in 1849-50 and 
1850-51. Among many articles of interest I was particularly 
impressed with two by Dr. John Y. Bassett, of Huntsville, 
Ala., in whom I seemed to recognize a " likeness to the wise 
below," a "kindred with the great of old." I wrote to 
Huntsville to ascertain what had become of Dr. Bassett, and 
my correspondent referred me to his daughter, from whom 
I received a packet of letters written from Paris in 1836. 
I have her permission to make the extracts which are here 
given. 

By temperament or conviction there are a few men in every 
community who cannot bow to the Baals of the society about 
them, and who stand aloof, in thought at least, from the com- 
mon herd. Such men in small circles tread a steep and thorny 
road, and of such in all ages has the race delighted to make 
its martyrs. The letters indicate in Dr. Bassett a restless, non- 
conforming spirit, which turned aside from the hollowness and 
deceit of much of the life about him. As a student he had 
doubtless felt a glow of enthusiasm at the rapid development 
of the science of medicine, and amid the worries and vexations 
of a country practice his heart burned with the hope of some 
time visiting the great centres of learning. As the years passed, 
the impulse grew more and more urgent to go forth and see 
the great minds which had controlled his hours of study. All 
students flocked to Paris in the fourth decade. Nowhere else 
was the pool so deeply stirred, and Laennec, Broussais, Louis, 
Andral, Velpeau, and others dominated the thoughts of the 
profession. One can imagine how carefully the plan was laid, 
and how for years the little surplus earnings were hoarded for 
the purpose. But the trial which demanded the greatest 



courage was the leaving of wife and children, and there are 
passages in the letters which indicate that the struggle was 
hard, not indeed without bitterness. He apologizes frequently 
for an apparent cruelty in leaving them for the sake of his 
profession ; and the neighbors did not make it easier for the 
poor wife, whose desertion they could not understand. In one 
of the letters he says, " So people say I have left you ? Well, 
so I have, and you ought always to put the most charitable 
construction on such remarks ; the same people when I come 
back will possibly say I have returned. Sometimes remarks 
of this sort are made carelessly, as men tramp upon worms ; 
sometimes from wantonness, as boys pull off the wings of flies 
and pierce them with pins ; sometimes for sport, as hunters 
shoot inoffensive creatures that are of no service ; sometimes 
for spite, as we kill fleas; sometimes for experiment, as phi- 
losophers torture dogs ; but seldom from wickedness, as pagans 
skin saints, and as Christians skin one another." And in 
another he says, " My expressions put me in mind of a sick 
man's repentance. I know, Isaphaena, you have borne much 
for and from me, and you will have to do so again, and I hope 
you may do it pleasantly ; and if it is any gratification to you 
to know, you have a husband who appreciates your conduct." 

The letters begin from Baltimore in the last week of 
December, 1835. He had lost his diploma, for he applied to 
Dr. James H. Miller, the President and Professor of Anatomy 
of the Washington Medical College, for a certificate, which is 
found among the papers, stating that he is a regular graduate 
of that institution, but not mentioning the year. 

He took passage by the Roscoe, Capt. Delano in command, 
bound for Liverpool. He sailed on Jan. 6th, and in an inter- 
esting letter an account is given of the voyage. They reached 
the English Channel on the 26th. A glowing description is 
given of the fine way in which the passengers lived on these 
packet-ships. He entreats his wife to feel sure that all would 
go well, though she might not hear from him very regularly, 
and he begs her in all matters to remember his motto, " Peace 



on earth and good will towards men." He expresses great 
anxiety about the training of his two children, and bids her 
not to spare the rod if necessary, saying, " as the twig is bent 
the tree inclines." 

The first long letter, descriptive of Manchester, York, and 
Edinburgh, is illustrated by very neat little sketches. He 
was very much impressed with York, and says that " if ever 
I was to be born again I would like it to be at York." 

In Edinburgh he visited everything, from the fifteen-story 
hovels to the one-story palaces. He gives a description of 
some graves at Leith covered with iron grates and locked to 
keep the surgeons out, and over which a watch was kept the 
entire night. He was enchanted with Edinburgh in all 
matters except one. He says, "0 Scotland! thou land o^ 
cakes! Edinburgh! thou city of learning, thou cluster 
of palaces, thou city with suburbs in the centre and precincts 
fit for the residences of princes, thou modern Athens ! whose 
candles seem to emulate the stars in height, if not in lustre ! ! ! 
Could you not invent any other method of getting your coal 
out of the mine save on the backs of females ! ! ! ! It is a fact 
that there are women whom they call bearers, whose business 
it is to carry coal out of the pit." 

He was very enthusiastic about the museum of the College 
of Surgeons, and the Infirmary, where he witnessed in the 
presence of Mr. Syme, an operation by " Mr. Ferguson, a young 
surgeon." 

Prom Edinburgh he proceeded to Glasgow, then to Belfast 
and Dublin, and then on to London, where he spent two weeks, 
apparently of great misery, as the weather was atrocious. He 
shook the mud of England from his feet at Dover, and 
departed, hoping never to be soiled with it again. 

He took a through passage from London to Paris for £1 
18s., and he gives an amusing description of the additional 
payments. He asked the master of the hotel to give him some 
information regarding French traveling, and got, he says, a 
regular English account, Johnsonian without his wit. " They 



will cheat you at every step; they will rob yon; they will 
poison you with dirt ; everything is filthy ; you will get no 
mutton or beef, and nothing but sour wine." Then he says, 
" Though I paid everything in London, I will give you a list 
of the little extra charges on the road, and in eight out of ten 
cases paid/' He gives an itemized bill of twenty-eight extra 
charges in the two days and one night which he spent in the 
diligence. One of his items was for walking down a ladder, 

one shilling. He told this fellow to go to h and jumped 

over his ladder. " To the commissioner of one of the hotels, 
for seeing that nobody cheated you but himself, six shillings." 
" The commissioner of the diligence, the most useless of all 
damned rascals, for pestering you and telling lies, 1 shilling 
and sixpence." 

He reached Paris and took lodgings in the Place Pantheon. 
He writes, " I am now in the very region of Voltaire and Eous- 
seau ; and the Pantheon, in which one set of bigots deposited 
their bodies, from whence another set tore their bones, raises 
its classic front before my window. I look on it and feel I am 
not so much of an infidel as when surrounded by Christians." 

He attached himself at once to the clinic of Velpeau at La 
Charity. On his first day he says he did not understand more 
than half he said, but he understood his operations. He says 
there was a gentleman from Mobile, Mr. Jewett, who had been 
there for three years. Americans were not scarce ; there were 
four or five from New York, two from Baltimore, and several 
from Boston and Philadelphia. He does not mention their 
names, but it is pleasant to think he may have attended classes 
at La Pitie with Bowditch, Holmes, Shattuck, Gerhard and 
Still6. He began dissections at once; subjects were cheap — 
six francs apiece — and he secured a child on the first day for 
forty sous. 

Some of the lectures were in the evening, at seven o'clock, and 
he went to hear M. Helmagrande on midwifery. He says, 
"The hospitals here are conducted on the most liberal terms ; 
there is nothing to pay but for the private courses, and the fee 



8 

is small for them. The facilities for the study of midwifery 
are astonishing ; there are plenty of cases always on hand, and 
this I determined to profit by." In a letter of March 16th he 
mentions his daily routine : " I get up in the morning at six 
o'clock and am at La Oharit6 by seven, follow Velpeau until 
eight, see him operate and lecture until half after nine, break- 
fast at ten at a cafe. At eleven I am at a school of practical 
anatomy, where I dissect until two. Then I attend a class of 
practical surgery until three ; then hear Broussais and Andral 
until five; then dine. At seven I attend Helmagrande's class 
of midwifery, which lasts until nine ; then I come to my room 
and read or write until eleven, when I retire." 

He was much impressed by the opportunities for dissection. 
In his letter of the third of July he says: "There is a dis- 
secting school at Clamart for the summer on a most extensive 
scale. There is room and material for 200 or upwards, though 
there is but few there at present; this place was provided for 
the inscribed students of the school, and they get their sub- 
jects for a mere trifle. There is not the least prejudice exist- 
ing here against dissections ; even the subjects do not seem to 
mind it, though they are aware of their fate, for more than 
two-thirds of the dead are carried to the FEcole Pratique or 
Clamart. I have private instruction in the use of the stetho- 
scope for heart complaints in La Pitie. The other day an old 
woman bade me adieu as we passed her bed without calling, and 
I stopped to ask if she was going out. Then she said she was 
going to Clamart, and that we might meet again." 

He had evidently occupied his time to good advantage, as 
early in July he received from Velpeau the appointment of 
externe at La Charity. He says in his letter of the 10th of 
July : " I have a piece of news to communicate that I know 
will gratify you ; at least I feel very much gratified myself. 
This morning I received the appointment of externe in La 
Charit6 under Velpeau. The duties of an externe require 
him to be at the hospital at six o'clock, answer to his name, 
follow the surgeon round a certain number of beds, attend to 



his prescriptions, and to dress the patients. For this service 
we receive nothing, and for this privilege we pay nothing ; 
you ought to be gratified at this, because it will convince you 
I have not been wasting my time. I was on the eve of 
starting for Switzerland, and was only waiting to witness the 
celebrations on the 27th, 28th and 29th ; but when this offer 
was made me I did what I have been doing all my life — made 
another sacrifice for my profession, and determined to remain 
and take the service. I have not been more gratified since I 
have been in Europe ; it is a real benefit and came unsolicited." 

He was very much impressed by the incessant industry of 
the French physicians. He says : " When I look at some of 
the medical men by whom I am surrounded, it makes me 
blush for shame; old men daily may be seen mixing their 
white locks with boys, and pursuing their profession with the 
ardor of youth. There is not a solitary great man in France 
that is idle, for if he was, that moment he would be out- 
stripped ; it is a race, and there are none so far ahead that they 
are not pressed by others ; many are distanced, it is true, but 
there are none allowed to walk over the course. Witness 
Broussais, lecturing and laboring daily to sustain himself, 
after having elevated himself to the pinnacle ; Lisf ranc, an old 
bachelor with thousands, who after making his daily visit and 
le^on for ten months for duty, during the vacation of two 
months he from choice gives a course of operations; and old 
Eollier may be seen daily supporting himself from bed-post to 
bed-post as jolly as if he were not far over sixty. Velpeau, 
from a poor boy without money, time, education or friends, 
has by industry made himself one of the first surgeons in 
Europe." 

In one of his last letters there is this interesting note about 
Broussais, who had just finished his course on phrenology : 
" The pupils of '36 have struck off his head. It is in bronze, 
a little less than our old Washington and Franklin in wax. 
Broussais is a genius, and when he entered life he saw that 
something was to be done, or rather that he must do some- 



10 

thing, and he seized the science of medicine as a good old 
doctor would a bottle of lotion, and shook it manfully; 
Prance, Germany, all Europe, parts of Asia, and America 
have felt the agitation. But younger men also feel the neces- 
sity of doing something, and they are now endeavoring to 
quiet the commotion he has raised, and in Prance they have 
measurably succeeded. When the giant dies I doubt if he 
will find a successor — his conquests, like Alexander's, will be 
divided and then fall into insignificance. He fights well while 
in the ring against awful odds, for the truth is against him, 
but some of her brightest geniuses he has put to rout or 
silence. Time is now about to enter the field, and I have no 
doubt will place a splendid monument over him, to — ^prevent 
him from being forgotten. '^ 

" I am glad I know what great men are. I am glad T know 
of what they are made, and how they made themselves great, 
though this knowledge has broken the last of my house- 
hold gods ; yet it has taken away the fiaming swords that stood 
before the gates of this Paradise, where may still be seen the 
track of the serpent and of the devil himself, so I will keep 
out of bad company." 

Scattered through his long, often closely-crossed letters, 
there are here and there some choice bits which indicate the 
character of the man. Por months he did not hear a word 
from home; then letters came at long intervals. He appar- 
ently had been re-reading some of his wife's letters, in one 
of which she had been reproaching him for using strong 
language. He says : " Isaphaena, you tell me to break myself 
of swearing, and not to spend my time about different profes- 
sions of religion ; that it will make enemies, etc. Now listen 
to me while I speak the truth, for on this subject you know 
that I always do speak what I think is true. I never did swear 
much, and I have quit it almost entirely, for nobody would 
understand me, and it would be useless to waste breath when 
I know I can put it to a better use. As to religion, there is 
not much here of any kind, and I assure you I have not said 



11 

ten words on the subject since I left, nor do I expect to ; and 
here, where Voltaire, Eousseau, and the whole constellation of 
mighty-minded men lived and wrote and died, I feel — 
Isaphaena — not so much an infidel as when at home surrounded 
by church-going people. Why is this ? I have never for a 
moment doubted the sincerity of my immediate friends, but at 
home I looked into the evil more closely than the good effects 
— there I saw ignorance, bigotry and deceit ever foremost; 
they were the most prominent, therefore the most likely to be 
seen. Here I still look on the evil side and find it terrible. Ood 
save me from a country without religion^ and from a government 
with it — I know you will say Amen also to the next sentence 
— and return me safe to a country with religion and a govern- 
ment without it. I am convinced that the evils of infidelity 
are worse— ay, much worse — ^than any religion whatever." 

"Had I the talents of the above-mentioned men I would 
not spend it as they did, nor would they, could they see the 
effect produced. Their object was good — to correct the evils 
of a corrupt priesthood — but their works were like edged 
tools given to children. Human nature is not perfect, and 
their refined and perfected systems of morals will not apply, 
and if we were perfect we would not need them. I speak the 
words of truth and soberness." 

He evidently was of St. Paul's opinion with reference to the 
subjection of the wife. He says in one place : " What if I 
have spoken cross to you, scolded at you ; if it was not my 
duty it was at least my privilege, and I expect to have the 
pleasure of doing it again. Are we not told, if our right hand 
offends to cut it off, etc.; then surely if our better-half offends 
we ought to have the liberty of swearing a little." 

His last letter is from Paris, dated October 16th, and he 
speaks in it of his approaching departure. 

I have no information as to the date of his return, but his 
intention was, he states frequently in his letters, to be back 
by the first of the year, so that after this date he probably 
resumed practice at Huntsville. 



12 

The two papers in Penner's Southern Medical Reports are 
the only ones I see credited to him. They are charmingly 
written and display in every page the wise physician ; wise 
not only with the wisdom of the schools, but with that deeper 
knowledge of the even-balanced soul " who saw life steadily 
and saw it whole." 

The Report in Vol. I deals with the topography, climate, 
and diseases of Madison County. Dr. Fenner states that it 
was accompanied by a beautiful map drawn by the author, 
and a large number of valuable statistics. 

In an historical sketch of the settlement he thus depicts 
the early border life: "The most of those who did not pro- 
cure homes at that time, belonged to a class who, from taste 
or compulsion, had separated themselves from the whites, to 
live on the trail of the Indians ; and who, like tigers, and 
Judases, were not without their use in the mysterious economy 
of nature. They surpassed the natives in physical force and 
in genius, and equalled them in ferocity. They had the 
piratical appetite for gain natural to the English race, which 
they had cultivated among the whites, and they readily 
acquired the Indian taste for blood." 

" Thus, without any particular standard of morals of their 
own, and having fallen out with that which restrained their 
Christian brethren, they found their interest in adopting the 
ancient one of Moses and of the savages among whom they 
resided — 'An eye for an eye,' and 'blood for blood '." 

" These men, like the fabulous Behemoth that lay in the 
reedy fens of the early world, drinking up the abundant 
waters and eating down the luxuriant forests, to make way 
for civilization, have left little more than a vague tradition of 
their existence and exploits, the latter of which has been so 
embellished that the former already begins to be doubted." 

"Such a race leave but short records of their diseases. 
Where bloodshed is always epidemic and every man his own 
surgeon, the few that recover feel grateful to none, and hang 
no ' votive tablets ' on the natural columns of their forests ; 



13 

and when a missionary or a novelist is the only historian, it 
would puzzle Hippocrates himself to collate the cases ; but, 
as most things, as well as lions, track the earth in some 
manner as they pass over it, these early squatters have also 
made their mark." 

The good example of Dr. Thomas Fearn, who in the early 
days of the regular settlement was the leader of the profes- 
sion, is well drawn. "The influence of this gentleman's 
reputation upon the profession was favorable to the residence 
of thoroughbred physicians in the neighborhood, many of 
whom he had been directly instrumental in educating; another 
consequence followed: quackery and empiricism abated. 
Although quackery is indigenous in the human heart, like 
thieving and lying, and always will exist, yet it flourishes in 
the indirect ratio of the science and general qualifications 
of the regular part of the profession. When regular, and 
extensively patronized physicians, armed with all requisite 
diplomas and the experience of years, suffer themselves to 
grow so dull in diagnosis as to bleed a typhoid patient half 
an hour before death in the evening, that they had been 
stimulating through the day ; or so far forget, or compromise 
the dignity of their high calling, as to practice * Mesmerism,' 
or prescribe * Mother's Belief ' to a parturient woman, men of 
smaller pretensions, and more professional pride, or better 
information, should not, and do not wonder at quackery 
springing up around such like mushrooms in a spring morn- 
ing, where a fat cow has lain over night and warmed the soil 
for their reception." 

Dr. Fearn is credited with the practice of giving enormous 
doses of quinine in the malarial fevers. Dr. Bassett mentions 
five or six cases of night blindness caused by these large doses. 
Very full accounts are given of epidemics of scarlet fever and 
of smallpox, and a discussion on the cold water treatment 
of the former disease. Dr. Bassett must have had a well- 
equipped library, and his references to authors both old and 
new are not only very full, but most appropriate. " In the 



14 

spring of 1833 we were visited by the scarlet fever in its most 
malignant form ; during the prevalence of this epidemic more 
than fifty infants perished in Huntsville, at the only age they 
are not an annoyance here. I treated nine bad cases, and four 
terminated fatally ; I lost neariy half in almost every instance. 
An older practitioner was called in, but I am not ceri»in that 
in their own proper practice they were more fortunate. In 
more than one instance there lay more than one dead child in 
the same house at the same time. I feel certain that this was 
a most malignant disease ; but I do not feel certain that in 
every case our best physicians remembered the united counsel 
of Hippocrates and Ovid, that * nothing does good but what 
may also hurt,' and which should never be lost sight of by 
the man of medicine." 

The following is an extract from the account of the small- 
pox epidemic of 1835 : " My treatment was pretty much that 
laid down by Dr. Meade : bleeding, gentle aperients, cool air, 
sub-acid drinks, mild anodynes and vitriolic infusion of barks. 
Although the purgative part of this treatment embroiled the 
faculty of the early part of the 18th century to such a degree 
that the like has not been heard since the days of Guy Patin 
and Antimony — shaking the authority even of the celebrated 
triumvirate, Mead, Friend and Eadcliffe, and who, on their 
part, embalmed one Dr. Woodward in their gall and handed 
him down to posterity, like a * dried preparation,' as a speci- 
men of the folly of small men who attempt to run against 
* the throned opinions of the world ' — and a proof that * polite 
literature does not always polish its possessors ' — yet we of 
Huntsville were too willing that our brethren should have our 
cases, to question each other's practice." 

Dr. Bassett states that among the 30,000 inhabitants of the 
county, thirty physicians practiced who were paid about 
$30,000 a year, "which," he says, "is but bread, and scarce at 
that "; and when we contemplate the 50 lbs. calomel and 1000 
ozs. quinine which they swallow, it reminds one of Falstaff's 
bill of fare: "But one half -penny worth of bread to this 
intolerable deal of sack." 



15 

There is a very clever discussion on the, at that time, much 
debated question of the use of anaesthetics in labor. The 
following is a good extract: "It is truly humiliating to 
science to have to stop and rest upon her course until the 
dullness of the clergy can frame an excuse for an obvious 
truth — to see such a man as Dr. Simpson, of Edinburgh, 
stopping in the midst of his Idbor^ to chop logic by the way- 
side, like a monk of the fifteenth century, to endeavor to 
prove a truth at midday, by argument, which he had proven 
by practice in the morning, and thereby running at least a 
risk of losing by night what he had earned through the day. 
Let us examine in plain English his new translation of the 
Hebrew authority for the use of chloroform and see if in 
getting one dent out of his turtle's egg, he does not put 
another in." 

At the head of the article by Dr. Bassett in the second 
volume of Fenner's Keports stands the quotation, "Celsus 
thought it better, in doubtful cases, to try a doubtful remedy, 
than none at all "; which he quotes only to condemn in the 
following vigorous style: "In giving my individual experi- 
ence and opinions, I desire to censure none. In such cases 
the best informed fear the most, and experience but renders 
us charitable. I will therefore only say that I have been 
fortunate, in my own practice, in reversing the aphorism at 
the head of this article. That rule of practice has found favor 
in the eyes of every generation of both doctors and patients, 
and it is not wonderful that the few able men of every age 
that have opposed it have warred in vain, — ^that the science of 
French expectancy, and the quackery of German homoeopathy, 
have alike failed ; dying men will have pills and parsons.'' 

"When physicians were required, by public opinion, to 
follow the dictates of Hippocrates, and his immediate succes- 
sors, as closely as Christians now profess to follow the com- 
mandments of Moses and the prophets, they claimed a right 
to act boldly their faith in these authorities, and public 
opinion sustained them ; and however difficult the task, they 



16 

found it much easier to understand the written language of 
Hippocrates than the yet more obscure teachings of Nature, 
between which and his followers he stood an infallible inter- 
preter, making her mysteries so plain that wayfaring men, 
though fools, could not err therein. Hippocrates was but our 
fellow-servant, and we are but ministers of Nature; our whole 
art consists in understanding her language and laws; our 
whole practice, in obeying her mandates : if we do not under- 
stand them, it is either our fault or misfortune; to act as 
though we did is quackery. Celsus says, this bold practice 
of old, fere qv^s ratio non restUuit temeritas adjuvat; but 
shrewdly remarks, that * Physicians of this sort diet other 
men's patients more happily than their own.' I doubt, how- 
ever, if, in the present state of medicine, a thorough physician 
is ever, in any stage of any disease, so completely without 
rational education as to be thus nonplussed, and driven to the 
necessity of dealing a blow in the dark ; where there are no 
intelligible indications, it is clear there should be no action." 
" Then, if I have not followed the advice of this master, it 
has not been lightly laid aside ; nor, as I have stated, without 
precedent; and if I have, in a measure, adopted another of 
his rules, to make food physic (optimum vero medicamentum 
est, cibus datus), it has not been upon his mere authority. I 
revere authority, believing with the royal preacher, that 
' whoso breaketh a hedge, a serpent shall bite '; yet I rejoice 
that its fetters are broken in medicine — that we no longer are 
hedged with the eternal cry of ' Hippocrates and reason.' But 
if, in getting rid of the authority of the Ancients, we have 
discarded the example of their labor and learning, and turned 
a deaf ear to their opinions, it is easier to be lamented than 
corrected. If the unthinking part of the profession of old, 
that followed authority, and 'on the first day of a fever 
loosened the belly, on the next opened a vein, on the third 
gave a bolus,' etc., are now represented by those who follow 
fashion, and give calomel, quinine and cod-liver oil every day, 
we have but changed authority for fashion, and are yet in 



17 

bondage; but fashion, though indomitable, changes with the 
wind, and if for a time it carries the small craf fc, the weak or 
designing in its current, it soon leaves them stranded, as land- 
marks, at which we can at least laugh, without fear of pro- 
fessional martyrdom." 

Earely has the credo of a zealous physician been more beau- 
tifully expressed than in the following words : " I do not say 
that the study of nature, human and comparative, as far as it 
relates to medicine, is an easy task ; let any one undertake a 
foreign language, and when he thinks he has mastered it, let 
him go into its native country and attempt to use it among 
the polite and well-informed ; if he succeed, let him go among 
the illiterate and rude, where slang is current; into the 
lunatic asylum, where the vernacular is babbled in broken 
sentences through the mouth of an idiot, and attempt to 
understand this ; should he again succeed he may safely say 
that he knows that language. Let him then set down and 
calculate the cost, in labor, time and talent; then square 
this amount and go boldly into the study of physiology; and 
when he has exhausted his programme, he will find himself 
humbly knocking at the door of the temple, and it will be 
opened; for diligence, like the vinegar of Hannibal, will 
make a way through frozen Alps ; it is the ' open sesame ' of 
our profession. When he is satisfied with the beautiful pro- 
portions of the interior, its vast and varied dimensions, the 
intricate and astounding action of its machinery, obeying 
laws of a singular stability, whose very conflict produces 
harmony under the government of secondary laws — if there 
be anything secondary in nature I — when he is satisfied (and 
such are not satisfied until informed), he will be led to his 
ultimate object, to take his last lessons from the poor and 
suffering, the fevered and phrenzied, from the Jobs and 
Lazaruses, — into the pest-houses and prisons, and here, in 
these magazines of misery and contagion, these Babels of 
disease and sin, he must not only take up his abode, but fol- 
lowing the example of his Divine Master, he must love to 
dwell there ; — ^this is Pathology." 



18 

" When such an one reenters the world, he is a physician ; 
his vast labors have not only taught him how little he knows, 
but that he knows this little well. Conscious of this virtue, 
he feels no necessity of trumpeting his professional acquire- 
ments abroad, but with becoming modesty and true dignity, 
which constitute genuine professional pride, he leaves this to 
the good sense of his fellow-citizens to discover." 

Dr. Bassett developed tuberculosis, and the last letter in 
the budget sent to me was dated April 16th, 1851, from 
Florida, whither he had gone in search of health. He died 
November 2d of the same year, aged 46. 

To a friend he writes on the date of April 5th : " This world 
has never occupied a very large share of my attention or love. 
I have asked but little of it, and got but little of what I asked. 
It has for many years been growing less and less in my view, 
like a receding object in space ; but no better land has appeared 
to my longing vision; what lies behind me has become insig- 
nificant, before me is a vast interminable void, but not a 
cheerless one, as it is full of pleasant dreams and visions and 
glorious hopes. I have covered it with the landscapes of 
Claude, and peopled it with the martyrs of science, the 
pioneers of truth, the hound-hunted and crucified of this 
world, that have earned and then asked for bread and received 
a serpent — all who have suffered for the truth. How glorious 
it is to contemplate in the future these time-buffeted at rest, 
with their lacerated feelings soothed as mine have been this 
day by the tender regard your wife has manifested for my 
future well-being." 

The saddest lament in Oliver Wendell Holmes* poems is 
for the voiceless, 

I 

** for those who never sing, I 

But die with all their music in them." 

The extracts which I have read show Dr. Bassett to have 
been a man of more than ordinary gifts, but he was among 
the voiceless of the profession. Nowadays environment, the 



19 

opportunity for work, the skirts of happy chance carry men to 
the summit To those restless spirits who have had ambition 
without opportunities, and ideals not realizable in the world 
in which they move, the story of his life may be a solace. I 
began by saying that I would tell you of a man of whom you 
had never heard, of a humble student from a little town in 
Alabama. What of the men whom he revered, and for whom 
in 1836 he left wife and children ? Are they better known to 
us? To-day scarcely one of those whom he mentions touches 
us with any firnmess from the past. Of a majority of them 
it may be said, they are as though they had not been. 
Velpeau, Andral, Broussais, the great teachers whom Bassett 
followed, are shadowy forms (almost as indistinct as the 
pupil), dragged out to the daylight by some laudator temporis 
acti, who would learn philosophy in history. To have striven, 
to have made an effort, to have been true to certain ideals — 
these alone are worth the struggle. Now and again in a 
generation, one or two snatch something from dull oblivion; 
but for the rest of us, sixty years — we, too, are with Bassett 
and his teachers — and 

"no one asks 
Who or what we have been, 
More than he asks what waves, 
In the moonlit solitudes mild 
Of the midmost ocean, have swelled, 
Foam'd for a moment, and gone."